As city staff and council members met in North Miami Beach City Hall Tuesday night for a budget workshop, a crowd gathered outside to protest a plan to outsource the city’s sanitation department.
Dozens of protesters in green shirts voiced their oppostion to the City Council’s recent vote to negotiate a contract with a private company, Waste Management of Florida, to handle trash hauling in the city. Hand-written signs compared privatization to “corruption” and displayed the words, “I Am a Man.”
“We’ve been working for the city for so long and something has to be done,” said Daniel Pierre, a resident and 12-year sanitation employee. “If the residents speak, I think they’re supposed to listen to us.”
The group eventually made its way into the council chambers and spoke during the regular council meeting. There were no sanitation-related items on the City Council agenda Tuesday night and the contract will likely not be presented for council approval until September.
Residents, employees and local union workers said at the meeting that the city should place a higher priority on the jobs than the proposed financial savings.
“It’s incomprehensible. Where does it go so wrong to where we can’t get it right?” said sanitation employee Livingston Ritchie.
The protestors, which included members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees local 3293, said they wanted more public input on the contract and ultimately want the city to find another way to save money. A spokesman said the union had received 1,500 signatures on a petition asking the city not to outsource the work.
“It’s always the little people. They never cut from the top,” said Janice Coakley, president of the AFSCME local 3293 chapter.
Residents also believe the level of service will be impacted if the sanitation work is outsourced.
“We’ve had excellent service for the past 51 years. We’re not going to have the same level of service,” said resident Debbie Hayden.
The City Council has considered the decision for several years and staff members said outsourcing the department will save about $2.5 million annually. North Miami Beach finance staff issued a memo saying the city would likely have to raise sanitation rates by about 38 percent over the next three years if the city continues to run the department.
Council members previously said they sympathize with the residents but ultimately, based on staff projections, had to support proceeding with privatization. Councilwoman Phyllis Smith and Councilman Frantz Pierre voted against the item at the July 21 meeting and Pierre posed with demonstrators for a picture before the meeting.
“The union has their interests that they’re defending, and I understand and respect their right to demonstrate,” Mayor George Vallejo said. “But we have to make the decision that’s in the best interest of the city.”
Discussion on outsourcing the department goes back to 2012. It was restarted last July when the council asked for a new request for proposals and rejected an existing proposal.